Five issues are of critical importance for maintaining the dynamics of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the near to medium future.

First, the SCO should assume its responsibility to maintain regional stability.

This is essential for the Central Asian region. At present and for the foreseeable future, possible regional instability is one of the biggest problems the region faces. Under such circumstances, as a regional organization, the SCO has to respond to the region’s concern by assuming its responsibility to deal with regional crisis. It answers the core needs of the region. Otherwise, the SCO will certainly lose its popularity and be marginalized in regional management.

While not denying the political principle of non-interference in internal affairs, the SCO should follow a policy of “constructive engagement” that would try to settle a crisis, prevent its escalation, and restore stability by taking active steps based on international laws. It is obvious that the SCO cannot guarantee cure-all solutions, given the complexity of the situation and the insufficiency of the resources at its disposal; however, its contribution could make a difference. More importantly, it is the right path for the SCO politically.

Second, the SCO should play a more visible role in Afghanistan.

This has been high on the SCO’s agenda because of the Afghanistan’s proximity to SCO’s member states in terms of both geography and security. However, with the on-going withdrawal of American and NATO forces and scheduled transfer of administrative and security responsibilities to the Afghan government by 2014, the SCO is facing a situation that is totally new, with uncertain prospects. The surrounding countries, including the member states of the SCO, will certainly be the first and most seriously affected if the situation in Afghanistan takes an unexpected turn. Concern for the future of Afghanistan is great among the member states of the SCO. Although the SCO cannot resolve the Afghanistan problem, it should play a more active and substantial role in helping to resolve it to meet the security demands of its member states and of the region.

As an organization that consists of most of the neighbors of Afghanistan, the SCO possesses considerable potential to aid Afghanistan, particularly in the economic and humanitarian spheres. The SCO must find a decision how to realize its potential in a more effective way.

Third, the SCO should make a breakthrough in economic areas.

The SCO has achieved great success in the area of security by creating a common approach to combating terrorism, separatism, and extremism, and by forming an overall cooperative mechanism among the functional organs of the member states relating to security issues. However, economic cooperation within the SCO lags behind and the results are not satisfying. Among the problems and difficulties that stand in its way are the different visions and approaches of the member states, particularly of China and Russia, although all of them agree on carrying out economic cooperation in principle. The economy is one of the three pillars of the SCO (alongside security and humanitarian cooperation), and economic benefits are very desirable to the member states, especially for the Central Asian countries. Further delay in economic cooperation will disappoint those member states and hurt the organization’s reputation. The SCO has to make great efforts to step forward in the economic area to bring about tangible gains.

Fourth, the SCO should make the Eurasian Union a partner.

The development of the relationship between the SCO and Eurasian Union will have a significant impact on the SCO’s future. Prior to the presidential election in March 2012, President Putin put forward the new Eurasian integration project, which has four planned phases: the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Eurasian Union. At the present time, the Eurasian Union is in the phase of the Eurasian Common Economic Space, which includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, with Kyrgyzstan waiting to be accepted. The Eurasian Union is dominated by Russia, and it overlaps significantly with the SCO in terms of members and functions. Many people regard the SCO and the Eurasian Union as competitors and predict that the competition between them will intensify with time.

The SCO should form constructive relations with the Eurasian Union. Politically, they should be partners. Functionally, they could be parallels. This kind of relationship is possible for the SCO and the Eurasian Union. The two organizations share major member states. This creates natural conditions for them to be political partners. Economically, the SCO and the Eurasian Union are not doomed to exclude each other. Actually, the SCO and the Eurasian Economic Community, the precursor of the Eurasian Union, have been coexisting from the very beginning. The Eurasian Economic Community came into being in 2000, one year before the SCO. The Eurasian Union is supported by the traditional linkages of the former Soviet republics, while the SCO is based on newly established economic connections. Both of them have a solid foundation in promoting economic cooperation, and both of them could be beneficial for the member states.

Fifth, the SCO should handle the issue of expansion properly.

Whether or not the SCO should expand is an important question. Russia actively advocates for India and Pakistan to become members in the SCO, while China is treating this with caution, worrying that it may lead to a reduction in the organization’s efficiency. China and Russia, along with the other member states, can continue their discussion of the issue, but it is important that the SCO should not let this issue negatively affect the internal solidarity among the member states, particularly between China and Russia. It is also important for the SCO to predict all the possible effects the expansion could bring about and prevent the most undesirable outcomes from happening, if it does finally decide to expand. At the same time, the SCO should make the best use of the possibilities that the expansion could provide.

Zhao Huasheng is a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. His most recent book, “Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Analysis and Outlook,” was published in Beijing in June 2012 by the Publishing House of Contemporary Affairs.